Register Saturday | September 24 | 2022

The Summer 2022 Book Room

Bedroom Rapper

Rollie Pemberton is living proof that nerds are cool. As an “insanely weird” teen, he was experimenting with music-mixing software in his mom’s attic at a time when “the web wasn’t really popping yet.” Twenty-one years later, he won the 2021 Polaris Prize for his album Parallel World. In his memoir Bedroom Rapper (McClelland & Stewart), Pemberton—you might know him as Cadence Weapon—shares an energetic account of how his teenage enthusiasm for rhythm and storytelling led him to international success as a rapper. Writing about a cultural era so distant it almost feels like sci-fi, he describes finding a record label through internet chatrooms and opening for “a relatively new Caribbean pop star” who turns out to be Rihanna. Pemberton is charmingly candid about highs and lows with his management, his country and his own ego. He weaves a history of hip-hop (from Jamaican reggae to Soundcloud rap) throughout the book, along with shorter histories of music tech, Montreal’s Mile End, and the aquatic animals who live in the West Edmonton Mall. Music lovers, this one’s for you—but readers of all stripes will enjoy this story about a “shy, nerdy Black kid” who made it big.—Maddy Mahoney

God Isn’t Here Today

In God Isn’t Here Today (Invisible Publishing), ghosts have sex and eat casseroles. They also have jobs: as shepherds of the newly passed, as sex workers. Francine Cunningham’s new collection is all about the spaces between life and death, or what seems and what is. It’s a cohesive handful of short stories and poems, with the same scents (lemon and lavender) and imagery (a yellow dress, a wry half-smile) resurfacing throughout. Cunningham is uniquely funny even through homophobia, whorephobia, death and aching loneliness. In one story, the protagonist finds God in an unlikely run-in with a stranger. God isn’t in at the moment, and while waiting for them to show up at their office, they muse about their absence: “Were they stressed out from a constant barrage of people with just enough time to catch the #2 bus and head all the way downtown?” Opening this collection feels like stepping into a lively discussion between friends you’ve known since kindergarten when someone is already mid-rant, in a good way.—Sarah Ratchford

My Grief, the Sun

My Grief, the Sun (House of Anansi) is a self-professed doxology—a study of the glory of language and writing. The speakers in Sanna Wani’s latest work joyously experiment with poetic forms to articulate their relationships with faith, family and themselves. In the prose poem “God is the Exalted and Absolute Other,” the speaker considers their role as a worshiper, remarking: “God climbs so / many trees. Religion is a ladder. We are meant to help Him down.” Wani’s poems draw from a rich catalogue of references. She writes in conversation with Anne Carson, produces an ekphrasis on Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, and creates collages inspired by Rumi. Wani’s words dance along the page, forming grids and maps that point toward healing. There is no topic, no touching point, too insignificant for her attention. Her voice is compelling and self-assured throughout: “This is where I write from,” Wani’s speaker says in “We are whispering in the dark.” She continues: “I grab my throat. ‘Here. Here.’”—Katia Lo Innes

Rave 

“Did you know…that Jesus Christ was the first raver?” the DJ shouts over a crowd of eager young people at the youth ministry rave. “Jesus wants you to party.” Seeing no other option, a conflicted teenager named Lauren gives in to the music and her youth-group admirer, the straight-edge, Jesus-loving Jason. No one would have guessed that just weeks before, she’d kissed her edgy Wiccan biology partner, Mariah—an act which came much more naturally. But it was clear to Lauren what was acceptable to her community and what wasn’t. In her latest graphic novel, artist Jessica Campbell’s signature austere panels zero in on the passing of time and the feelings that come during moments that become memories, from waiting anxiously by the phone for a call from a new flame to bombshell news slowly sinking in. Rave (Drawn & Quarterly) will leave you feeling sad, angry and with a distinct pit in your stomach. Many queer kids brought up in the church will know the feeling.—Charlotte Genest

Remnants

Céline’s father is dead and the notebooks where she stored her memories of him have been destroyed by bookworms. Remnants (Book*hug) documents the protagonist’s various attempts to reconstruct those memories. “Over time, narratives layer over a memory until the original event is entirely out of reach,” Céline Huyghebaert writes. “How do we keep these moments intact, before they’re muddied by time and other people’s stories?” The novel—which might be considered autofiction—includes transcripts of interviews with Céline’s family members, professional analysis of her father’s handwriting samples, and an inventory of belongings in his apartment. A particularly inventive section features questionnaires about his life filled out by people who never met him. Each experiment in form creates a vivid impression of who her father was as a person, only for that rendering to be contradicted in the following pages. Grappling with the nature of memory and knowability, Huyghebaert’s project is an unflinching and innovative meditation on grief, family and what gets left unsaid in our relationships. Translated from the French by Aleshia Jensen, the prose is evocative yet deftly restrained. Remnants is reminiscent of lasting works like Annie Ernaux’s The Years and Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell—it’s a stunning achievement.—Madi Haslam